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B-17 – an Iconic Bomber

Updated on September 9, 2019
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B-17, 297400, Over Andrews AFBA B-17 at Andrews AFB, May 2005B-17 in Flight, Andrews AFB, May 1990A B-17 at Andrews AFB, May 1991B-17 at Andrews AFB.B-17 at Andrews AFB.B--17 at Andrews AFBB-17 landing at Andrews ADB.B-17 at Andrews AFBA Norden bombsightThe B-17 124485 at Andrews AFB.Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014.Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014.Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014.Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014.
B-17, 297400, Over Andrews AFB
B-17, 297400, Over Andrews AFB | Source
A B-17 at Andrews AFB, May 2005
A B-17 at Andrews AFB, May 2005 | Source
B-17 in Flight, Andrews AFB, May 1990
B-17 in Flight, Andrews AFB, May 1990 | Source
A B-17 at Andrews AFB, May 1991
A B-17 at Andrews AFB, May 1991 | Source
B-17 at Andrews AFB.
B-17 at Andrews AFB. | Source
B-17 at Andrews AFB.
B-17 at Andrews AFB. | Source
B--17 at Andrews AFB
B--17 at Andrews AFB | Source
B-17 landing at Andrews ADB.
B-17 landing at Andrews ADB. | Source
B-17 at Andrews AFB
B-17 at Andrews AFB | Source
A Norden bombsight
A Norden bombsight | Source
The B-17 124485 at Andrews AFB.
The B-17 124485 at Andrews AFB. | Source
Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014.
Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014. | Source
Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014.
Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014. | Source
Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014.
Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014. | Source
Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014.
Aluminum Overcast at Manassas Airport 2014. | Source

The Legend

The B-17 Flying Fortress symbolized American airpower in World War II during the war and ever since. Its sleek fuselage bristling with heavy machine guns seemed to define airpower. It would be the aircraft the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) would use to test its theories of strategic bombing. The USAAF boasted the “pickle barrel” accuracy of the B-17’s Norden bombsight. The B-17 is a legendary aircraft. General Henry “Hap” Arnold said, “The B-17 was airpower.”[i] As with all legends there is myth and fact.


[i] AF Pamphlet 50-34 Volume I, 1 April 1990, P. 43.

Background and Development

In the 1929 United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) annual maneuvers pursuit planes were unable to intercept the penetrating bombers. In 1935 the USAAC wanted to replace the Martin B-10. Boeing built the XB-17.[i] The XB-17 made its first flight on July 28, 1935.[ii] The aircraft’s speed and armament appeared to make it unassailable. The usual armament for deployed fighters in 1935 was two 7.9mm (0.303 caliber) machine guns. Such armament could do little against such a large, well built, aircraft.

In October the XB-17 crashed on a USAAC evaluation flight. The investigation determined the cause was human error. The USAAC ordered 13 Y1B-17s for evaluation.[iii] The USAAC wanted to purchase the B-17 but the War Department deemed it too expensive and opted for medium bombers. When World War II began in 1939 the USAAC only had 19 heavy bombers.[iv]


[i] AF Pamphlet 50-34 Volume I, 1 April 1990, P. 43.

[ii] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide, by Tony Holmes, © Harpers Collins Publishers, 2003, P.127.

[iii] Ace Pilots.com, http://acepilots.com/planes/b17.html, last accessed 8/10/19.

[iv] AF Pa0mphlet 50-34 Volume I, 1 April 1990, P. 43.

B-17 & Contemporary Stats

 
B-17
B-24
Lancaster
Max Speed
287mph (462 km/h)
290 mph (467 km/h)
287 mph (462 km/h)
Range
2,000 miles (3,219 km)
2,100 miles (3,380 km)
2,530 (4,072 km))
Defensive Armament
12 x0.5 Cal.(12.7mm) machine guns
8x0.5 Cal (12.7mm) machine guns
8x0.303 Cal (7.9mm) machine guns
Bomb load
12,800 lb (5,800 kg)
12,000 lb (5,443 kg)
14,000 lb (6,350 kg)

Source: Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes (c) 2003 by HaperCollins Publishers

World War II

There was the prewar belief the bomber force would always get though. The Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Luftwaffe[i] learned otherwise through combat experience. The Luftwaffe suffered prohibitive losses in their daylight missions during the Battle of Britain. They suffered these losses even though they used fighter escorts. The British and Germans also learned fighters needed more firepower to efficiently take down bombers.

In the spring and summer of 1941, the U.S. sent 20 of the 38 B-17Cs on hand to the British.[ii] The B-17C had a defensive armament of 5 machine guns, 4 x 12.7mm (0.50 caliber) and 1 x 7.9mm (0.303 caliber).[iii] The B-17 first saw combat on July 8, 1941. The RAF flew 39 RAF sorties on 22 missions. The last mission was on September 12, 1941. Almost half of these sorties, 18, were aborted. Only 2 bombs, 500 kgs (1,100 lbs.), hit their targets. The RAF lost 8, 4 to combat, B-17s. The RAF ceased B-17 bombing operations. The RAF used B-17s in other duties throughout the war. This convinced the RAF they couldn’t carry out strategic bombing missions in daylight.[iv]

The RAF experience didn’t convince the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). The USAAF believed had the RAF flown the B-17s together, instead of individually or in small numbers, the B-17s would have been able to ward off the German fighters. The USAAF believed the RAF would have had much better bombing accuracy had the B-17s been flown at 26,000 feet (7.900 m) instead of 32,000 feet (9,800 m). The RAF flew at 32,000 in an attempt to fly above the Bf-109’s service ceiling. The missions proved the B-17s couldn’t fly above the Luftwaffe fighters.

On the morning of December 7, 1941 eleven B-17Ds were flying to Hawaii. Two other aircraft that took off had to turn back. When the radar site picked up a large formation of aircraft it was assumed the formation was the incoming B-17s. The formation was the first wave of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack was underway when the B-17s arrived. Lt. Commander Shigeru Itaya shot down a B-17, piloted by Captain Swenson and co-piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Ernest L. Reid. The B-17 landed in flames. Lt. Schick was mortally wounded in the attack and subsequent strafing. He died the next day. Other crew members were wounded but survived.[v] The Japanese destroyed three other B-17Ds. This represented 10% of the 42 B-17Ds produced.[vi]

On December 9, 1941 a B-17, piloted by Captain Colin Kelly, attacked and slightly damaged the Japanese light cruiser Natori. While flying back to Clark Field, in the Philippines, Japanese Zeros attacked Kelly’s B-17. Captain Kelly ordered the crew to bail out. Captain Kelly was still flying the B-17 when it exploded. There were reports Captain Kelly crashed the B-17 into, and sank, the battleship Haruna. The 1945 short film “The House I Live In” perpetuated this myth. On February 8, 1942 the Japanese claimed downing two B-17s and damaging two others. These shootdowns, and Colin Kelly’s shootdown, involved multiple Japanese Zeros.[vii]

Nineteen Flying Fortresses set off to attack the Japanese task force headed for Midway on June 3. The crews reported sinking several “Normandie-type” ships.[viii] The B-17s dropped 314 bombs. They slightly damaged two ships and killed two Japanese sailors.

The B-17s flew other anti-shipping operations. The only successes were sinking a Japanese destroyer and damaging a cruiser.[ix]

USAAF B-17s flew their first bombing missions over Europe on August 17, 1942. The mission consisted of 18 aircraft, 6 were used as a diversion. The targets were train marshalling yards at Rouen and Sotteville. Two B-17s received minor damage. Then Major Paul W. Tibbets was one of the pilots in the lead plane.[x] The first raids had RAF and American Spitfires as escorts. The targets were within range of the Spitfires. These raids were similar to earlier raids by RAF medium bombers. The bombers would be primarily to entice Luftwaffe fighters to engage the RAF. The Luftwaffe didn’t consider these medium bombers a threat so they took or refused combat depending on their tactical position. The American heavy bombers had a bomb load that could do serious damage to their targets. Luftwaffe fighters no longer had the option to refuse combat. This was to the Spitfires’ advantage.[xi]

The B-17’s heavy defensive armament made conventional fighter attacks from the rear dangerous for the attacking fighters. The B-17s flew the first nine missions without loss to German defenses. Luftwaffe fighters shot down the first two B-17s on September 6, 1942. Seven B-17s sustained damage. There were 55 effective sorties on the mission and facing roughly the same number of Luftwaffe fighters. Luftwaffe pilots marveled at the B-17’s ability to absorb punishment. On one mission Oberleutnant Kurt Ruppert attacked a straggling Flying Fortress. Ruppert disabled three engines, one fell off the bomber. The B-17 kept flying on a single engine and crash landed on the English coast. [xii]

Flying Fortress gunners of the 8th Air Force downed a Focke-Wulf FW 190, on October 2, 1942. [xiii] The 8th Air Force credited the gunners with 9 kills, 13 probably shot down, and 9 damaged.[xiv] On October 9 the 8th Air Force sortied 84 B-17s on a bombing raid and 7 others on a diversion mission. Three B-17s were lost and another was written off. The 8th Air Force also lost a B-24 and had one written off. The 8th Air Force initially credited the B-17s & B-24s with 56 destroyed enemy aircraft, 26 probably destroyed, and 20 damaged. President Franklyn D. Roosevelt gave these numbers in a radio broadcast. The Germans lost one aircraft and one pilot. The broadcast apparently boosted morale on both sides.[xv] The 8th Air Force officially credited the bombers with 25 destroyed, 38 probably destroyed, and 44 damaged.[xvi] The October 10th issue of Stars and Stripes told of a single B-17 fighting off 40 FW 190s.[xvii]

There was a mission on October 21 that involved 107 heavy bombers, 83 B-17s. Clouds prevented most of the bombing and only 23 sorties, all B-17s, were effective. The 8th Air Force lost 3 B-17s on the mission. After this mission USAAF transferred the 97th Bombardment Group to the 12th Air Force to support the invasion of North Africa.

The January 1, 1943 issue of Stars and Stripes proclaimed the vindication of the daylight bombing theory. It claimed the 8th Air Force shot down 200 Luftwaffe planes for the loss of 42 8th Air Force aircraft.[xviii] The 8th Air Force launched its first raid against Germany on January 27, 1943. B-17s attached the naval base at Wilhelmshaven. German defenses only shot down one of the attacking 55 B-17s. The 8th Air Force credited the B-17s with 10 aircraft shot down and 6 more probably shot down.[xix] The next major raid was February 4. The 8th Air Force dispatched 69 B-17s, 39 bombed targets. The 8th Air Force lost 5 B-17s and credited the B-17s with shooting down 25 enemy aircraft and eight more probably shot down. The raids continued with relatively few losses and greatly exaggerated claims.

The Germans lost the 6th Army at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942/43. The Luftwaffe lost 490 bombers and transport planes in a futile attempt to resupply the 6th Army.[xx]

The 8th Air Force regularly carried out raids with about 100 heavy bombers, mostly B-17s, starting in March 1943. On the night of April 16/17 RAF Bomber Command launched 609 sorties, 581 heavy bombers.[xxi] The 8th Air Force carried out a mission with 115 B-17s on April 17. This mission was the first to exceed the October 1942 sortie numbers. The 8th Air Force lost 16 bombers. For bomber crews a tour rotation consisted of 25 missions. The way the bombers crews figured it with a 10% loss rate a crew would have to fly 15 missions their plane would have to fly 15 missions past their average life expectancy in order for them to rotate back to the United States. The first plane to complete 25 missions was the “Memphis Belle”. It completed its 25th mission on May 19, 1943. It was one of 187 B-17 sent out on missions that day. Six B-17s didn’t return. Another 24 B-17s were a diversion. A British War Correspondent was killed on this mission.[xxii] The mission was made into a documentary and released in 1944.

On August 12, 1943 the 8th Air Force lost 25 B-17s and had 3 written off out of a force of 330 B-17s. On August 17, 1943, the 8th Air Force launched two raids against Schweinfurt and Regensburg, with 376 B-17s. The 8th Air Force lost 60 B-17s lost and 4 more written off. The human casualties were 559 B-17 crew members killed or captured, and 21 others wounded. The August 30 issue of Stars and Stripes boasted the raid cost the Luftwaffe 307 aircraft.[xxiii] The allies also lost 5 escorting fighters. Total German losses were 27 aircraft.[xxiv] At least 10 of the German aircraft fell to the fighter escort.[xxv]

The Germans and Italians lost 1,500 aircraft in the Battle of Sicily. The Soviet forces won the Battle of Kursk in August. This convinced the Soviet leaders Germany’s defeat was only a matter of time. The battle cost the German Army 200,000 soldiers killed or incapacitated. Soviet forces shot down 681 Luftwaffe aircraft.[xxvi] By September 5 the British 8th Army had captured most of Calabria, Italy.[xxvii]

The 8th Air Force didn’t fly another deep penetration raid until September 6. This raid cost 45 out of 338 B-17s. Another 10 B-17s were written off.[xxviii] The B-17s made another raid in Schweinfurt with 291 bombers. They lost 60 B-17 and other 7 were written off. The 8th Air Force had 599 aircraft members killed or captured.[xxix] The Luftwaffe flew 833 sorties against the 8th Air Force and lost 38 fighters.[xxx] P-47s of the 8th Air force claimed 13 enemy aircraft for 1 loss.[xxxi] This raid proved to the USAAF leaders unescorted daylight bombing, even with B-17s, was too costly. The heavy bombers would no longer fly to targets beyond the range of escort fighters.

The USAAF fighters had enough range to reach many of the targets in Germany. In November 15th Air Force B-17s began strategic bombing operations. Their targets were the Spezla Naval Base and the Vezzano railroad bridge. The next day B-17s and B-24s bombed Wiener Neustadt, Austria.

On December 11, 1943 8th Air Force P-51 Mustangs flew their first mission. The 44 P-51s were part of a 388-plane fighter escort for 583 heavy bombers. The targets were in Emden. The Mustangs scored no kills but it the mission meant fighters could escort the heavy bombers to any target in Germany.

On January 11, 1944 the 8th Air Force launched 663 heavy Bombers, 525 B-17s, with an escort of 548 fighters, 44 P-51s, against Germany. The raid cost the 8th Air Force 48 B-17s and 2 B-24s shot down, 4 more B-17s and a B-24 were write offs. The escorting fighters claimed 31 Luftwaffe aircraft for the loss of 5 and 3 write offs. P-51s claimed 15 of the kills and suffered only a damaged aircraft.[xxxii] The Luftwaffe lost 39 aircraft in this action.[xxxiii]

RAF Bomber Command flew 921 sorties on the night of February 19/20. They lost 78 heavy bombers and a Mosquito. Bomber Command suffered more losses this night than on any previous night. These were the last missions for Halifax IIs & Vs over Germany.[xxxiv] In the morning the 8th Air Force started the “Big Week”. The objective was to knock out the German aircraft industry.

The 8th Air Force launched its first 1,000 bomber raid. The raid consisted of 731 B-17s and 272 B-24s, and 835 escorting fighters. The 8th Air Force lost 21 bomber and 5 more written off. The fighters claimed 61 enemy aircraft shot down for the loss of 4 with 2 more written off. On February 22nd the 8th Air Force launched 799 bombers, 622 B-17s, and 659 fighters. The 15th Air Force joined in the “Big Week” effort.[xxxv] Total losses from both air forces was 46 bombers, 43 B-7s, and 13 fighters. Four B-17s and a fighter were also written off.[xxxvi] The Luftwaffe launched 332 sorties against the USAAF. The Germans lost 64 aircraft.[xxxvii] The “Big Week” ended on February 25 with the 8th Air Force launching 754 bombers and 899 fighters. This raid cost 31 bombers with 3 more written off and 3 fighters with 2 written off. The German aircraft industry was still functioning but the Germans calculated their production was roughly half what they expected. The daylight battle for air superiority over Germany had shifted in the USAAF’s favor.

USAAF carried out its first raid on Berlin on March 4. There were 30 effective bomber sorties against Berlin. The total 8th Air Force effort consisted of 502 B-17s and 770 fighters. The losses were 15 B-17s with a write off and 24 fighters with 4 write offs.[xxxviii]

On March 6 the 8th Air Force launched 730 bombers, 504 B-17s and 226 B-24s. The bombers had an escort force of 801 fighter, including 100 P-51s. The targets were Berlin and surrounding areas. The 8th Air Force lost 69 bombers, 53 B-17s, and 6 more were written off. There were also 11 fighters lost and three written off.[xxxix] RAF No 3 Squadron lost a Typhoon in a diversion raid. The aircrew losses were 714 killed or captured. The Germans flew 528 sorties and lost 66 fighters. Some Luftwaffe fighters flew multiple sorties.[xl] Had the sides had equal resources it would have been a German victory. As the situation stood it was a decisive, albeit costly, American victory. The 8th Air Force launched 623 bombers, 414 B-17s, with 891 escorting fighters against Berlin. The 8th Air Force lost 37 bombers, 28 B-17s, with a B-17 and two B-24s written off. The 8th Air Force also lost 18 fighters with 16 written off.[xli] The Luftwaffe flew about 150 sorties against this force.[xlii] The next day B-17s attacked Berlin, while B-24s attacked other targets.[xliii] The 8th Air Force lost 8 bombers and a fighter, with 3 of each written off. The Luftwaffe stood down so none of the losses were from enemy fighters.[xliv] In March the Reich defense force casualties were 229 killed and 103 wounded during March.[xlv]

RAF Bomber Command carried out its last major raid on Berlin on the night of March 24/25. Bomber Command lost 72 heavy bombers. The raid involved 811 aircraft.[xlvi] RAF Bomber Command attacked Nuremberg on the night of March 30/31 with 795 aircraft. Bomber Command launched 950 sorties that night. Bomber Command lost 96 aircraft. [xlvii] The British civilian casualties for March was 279 killed and 633 wounded.

Soviet troops regained control of the Ukrainian industrial area on February 22. They advanced 31 miles (50 Km) on March 5. Soviet troops entered Romania on March 19.[xlviii]

A raid on Berlin with 679 bombers, 446 B-17s, and 814 fighter escorts on April 29 cost 63 bombers, 38 B-17s, and 13 fighters. The casualties were 636 killed or captures and 39 wounded.

In April German aviation fuel production was 175,000 tons. In May 1944 the stock of German aviation fuel was 580,000 tons, the highest since the summer of 1941. The Luftwaffe had 4,500 combat aircraft. The Germans had dispersed their airframe production from 27 main complexes to over 250 small factories. The Germans had constructed some underground facilities that were impervious to bombing. German industry delivered 2,213 fighters in May. Industries delivered 1,550 fighters in January 1944.[xlix]

On May 12, 1944 the USAAF launched its campaign against the German oil industry. The 8th Air Force launched 886 bombers, 621 B-17s, protected by 735 fighters against oil targets. The 8th Air Force lost 46 bombers, 43 B-17s, and 7 fighters. Another 9 bombers, 4 B-17s, were write offs. The fighter escort claimed 61 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and 5 on the ground.[l]

On June 2 130 B-17s of the 15th Air Force Flew to Soviet bases in the Ukraine. They stayed there as a threat the German rear so the Germans may keep aircraft in the area instead of moving them to counter the planned D-Day invasion. The British cooperated with the operation but felt the operation was a publicity stunt. The Soviets didn’t like the U.S. using these “pendulum” operations to show how they were supporting the Soviet war effort. [li]

The night before the D-Day invasion 1,012 RAF Bomber Command aircraft bombed the Normandy coastal batteries. They dropped over 5,000 tons of bombs at the cost of 3 heavy bombers.[lii]

On June 6, 1944, 984 B-17s and 543 B-24s dropped 4,695 tons of bombs in the Normandy beaches to support the D-Day Invasion. The 8th Air Force lost 2 B-24s.[liii]

The 15th Air Force bombers in the Ukraine bombed a Romanian airfield on June 6. These 15th Air Force B-17s bombed an airfield in Romania on June 11 on their flight back to their home bases. [liv]

On June 21 the 8th Air Force sortied 1,234 heavy bombers, 866 B-17s, against targets in Germany, mostly Berlin. They had 1,170 fighters escorting them. Bomber losses were 45, 26 B-17s, and two B-24s written off. Fighter losses were 4 planes with two written off. As part of a new plan 114 B-17s continued to the Ukraine where they, and their P-51 escort, landed at Poltava. That night Luftwaffe bombers attacked. Their escorting fighters shot down a Soviet Yak. The bombers destroyed 43 B-17s and 15 P-51s with another 26 aircraft damaged. The bombers also destroyed some Soviet aircraft. They also destroyed a large amount of aviation fuel.[lv] After this bombing the “pendulum” operations petered out.

On June 30 Soviet forces captured the last German stronghold on the Fatherland line. This opened the way to Warsaw, Poland. All German resistance ended on the Cotentin Peninsula.[lvi]

General Carl Spaatz, commander of the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, ordered the primary aim was to deny the enemy oil supplies on June 8.[lvii]

On July 7 the 8th Air Force launched 1,129 bombers, 856 B-17s, with 756 escorting fighters. The force lost 37 bombers, 9 B-17s, with 2 B-17s and a B-24 written off. The fighter losses were 6 lost and a P-51 written off.[lviii] For this mission the Germans deployed a new tactic. FW 190s were given extra armor and were escorted by Bf 109s. The FW 190 pilots signed affidavits indicating they were ready to ram enemy bombers if all else failed.[lix] While intentional ramming rarely happened, it showed the German desperation. The Germans considered this mission a success but the 8th Air Force losses were 3.5% of the bomber force. The bomber force could easily sustain such losses.

Soviet forces captured Ploesti, and its massive oil facilities, on August 30.[lx] German Aviation fuel production for August was 16,000 tons. September production was 7,000 tons.[lxi]

Luftwaffe attacks and successes were sporadic and costly. On September 11 the 8th Air Force had 47 heavy bombers and 25 fighters lost or written off. The fighter escort claimed 115 aircraft destroyed in the air and 58 on the ground. The next day the losses and write offs were 40 heavy bombers and 14 fighters. The fighter escort claimed 54 aircraft destroyed in the air and 26 on the ground. On the 13th heavy bomber losses and write offs were 22 heavy bombers and 11 fighters. The fighters claimed 33 aircraft destroyed in the air and 25 on the ground. The heavy bomber force didn’t suffer losses greater than 20 aircraft unit September 27 & 28 with 34 bombers and 40 bombers lost or written off respectively. [lxii]

B-17s also flew air supply missions. On September 18 B-17s dropped 1,248 containers to resistance fighters in Warsaw, Poland. The 8th Air Force lost 1 of the 110 B-17s and two of the escorting fighters on this mission.[lxiii]

Soviet forces entered Hungary on September 23, captured Estonia on September 26, and entered Yugoslavia on September 30.

On January 14, 1945 the 8th Air Force launched 911 heavy bombers, 563 B-17s, with 860 escort fighters. The Luftwaffe attacked in force and received a crushing defeat. The fighter escort had 16 aircraft lost or written off but claimed 155 Luftwaffe aircraft shot down and 8 destroyed on the ground. The bomber force lost 7 B-17s. 4 B-17s and a B-24 were written off. [lxiv]

On April 7 the Luftwaffe made its most desperate attack on the U.S. heavy bombers. Sonderkommando Elbe flew its only combat mission. This unit of volunteers flew Bf 109s which only had 50 rounds of machinegun ammunition. The pilots’ mission was to ram an American bomber. They were to bail out when they were certain their aircraft would strike the bomber or after the collision. The Luftwaffe launched 150 Sonderkommando Elbe aircraft, about 60 aborted the mission because of mechanical problems. The Luftwaffe launched other fighters to support Sonderkommando Elbe. At least 8 of the 17 heavy bombers lost were from ramming. The Luftwaffe lost 59 aircraft, mostly Sonderkommando Elbe fighters. The 8th Air Force lost 5 fighters. At least 3 Sonderkommando Elbe pilots survived the ramming. In one incident 4 P-51s attacked a Bf 109 flown by Klaus Hahn. The P-51s damaged the Bf 109 and wounded Hahn. When Hahn regained control of his aircraft, he spotted a B-17 formation. He rammed a B-17 flown by Bud Wentz. The impact threw Hahn from the Bf 109 and he deployed his parachute. Wentz managed to make an emergency landing at an airfield under U.S. control.[lxv] Another rammed B-17, piloted by 1st Lieutenant Carrol Cagle, also gave a testament to the B-17’s durability. A Bf 109 struck Lieutenant Cagle’s B-17 in near the ball turret. A photo of B-17, 43-38058, after the collision is frequently used to illustrate the B-17’s airworthiness.

On April 15, 1945 the 15th Air Force flew 1,235 heavy bomber sorties against troop concentrations in Bologna, Italy.

B-17s of the 8th and 15th Air Force flew their last strategic bombing mission on April 25, 1945. The 8th Air Force target was Pilsen. The 8th Air Force Flying Fortress losses were 6 lost and 4 written off. Another 180 were also damaged.[lxvi] On this mission B-17s faced Me 262 jet fighters. The B-17 prototypes had a maximum speed comparable to contemporary fighters that were normally armed with two light machineguns. At the end of the war it had to face fighters that flew almost twice as fast with an armament of 4x30mm cannons and 24 air-air missiles.[lxvii]

The B-17 air and ground crews were mostly conscripts. That conscripts could fly and maintain them was significant. An aircraft too complicated to fly or maintain by novice crew members would have limited the number of sorties they could fly, regardless of production numbers.

The significance of the daylight strategic bombing raids in defeating Germany is a continuing debate. A separate question is would the Air Force have become a separate service if there weren’t USAAF strategic bombing raids in World War II?


[i] Luftwaffe, meaning Air Weapon, is what Germany calls its air force.

[ii] History of War, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses in RAF service, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_B-17_RAF_Service.html, last accessed 8/11/19.

[iii] Ace Pilots.com, http://acepilots.com/planes/b17.html, last accessed 8/11/19.

[iv] History of War, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses in RAF service, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_B-17_RAF_Service.html, last accessed 8/11/19.

[v] The Lost Pearl Harbor Attack Aircraft, by James F Lansdale, © 2007, http://www.j-aircraft.com/research/jimlansdale/japanese_losses_ph/Japanese_losses_Pearl_Harbor.htm, last accessed 8/11/19.

[vi] The American Aircraft at Pearl Harbor, https://visitpearlharbor.org/american-aircraft-pearl-harbor/, last accessed 8/11/19.

[vii] Air Aces, Christopher Shores, © 1983 Bison Books, P. 130.

[viii] The Pacific War 1941-1945 by John Costello© 1981 by Atlantic Communications, Inc., P.284.

[ix] Bismarck: Military Aviation History, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhIGuE530gs, last accessed 9/3/19.

[x] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981. Lieutenant Colonel Paul W. Tibbets led the 509th Composite Group and piloted the Enola Gay which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He retired from the Air Force as a Brigadier General in 1966.

[xi] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xii] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xiii] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xiv] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.18.

[xv] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xvi] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.19.

[xvii] Stars and Stripes, October 10, 1942, “Lone Fort Battles 40 Nazi Planes”.

[xviii] Stars and Stripes, January 1, 1943, “Forts, Libs Upset Air War Theory”.

[xix] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.35.

[xx] The Luftwaffe War Diaries by Cajus Bekker, © 1966 by Macdonald & Company, Ltd.

[xxi] The Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt, © 1985

[xxii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.61.

[xxiii] Stars and Stripes, August 30, 1943, Biggest Air Battle Cost Nazis 307 Planes.

[xxiv] Thought.com, World War II: Schweinfurt-Regensburg Raid, by Kennedy Hickman, August 3, 2018, https://www.thoughtco.com/world-war-ii-schweinfurt-regensburg-raid-2360539, last accessed 8/18/19.

[xxv] JG 26: Top Guns of The Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xxvi] Historyhit.com, https://www.historyhit.com/the-battle-of-kursk-in-numbers/, The Battle of Kursk in Numbers, by James Carson.

[xxvii] Word War II Almanac 1931-1945, by Robert Goralski, © 1981.

[xxviii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.106.

[xxix] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.126.

[xxx] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xxxi] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.126.

[xxxii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.165-166.

[xxxiii] The Luftwaffe War Diaries by Cajus Bekker, © 1966 by Macdonald & Company, Ltd.

[xxxiv] The Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt ©1985, P.473-474.

[xxxv] Fifteenth Air Force Story, by Kenn C. Rust, © Historical Aviation Album 1976.

[xxxvi] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.185-186.

[xxxvii] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xxxviii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.193.

[xxxix] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.195.

[xl] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xli] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.196-197.

[xlii] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xliii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.197-198.

[xliv] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xlv] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.

[xlvi] The Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt ©1985, P.484-485.

[xlvii] The Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt ©1985, P.487-488.

[xlviii] World War II Almanac 1931-1945, by Robert Goralski, © 1981.

[xlix] The Last year of the Luftwaffe: May 1944 to May 1945, by Alfred Price, © 1991. P. 11-12 & 95.

[l] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.243.

[li] Air Force Magazine, The Poltava Debacle, by John T. Correll, March 2011, http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2011/March%202011/0311Poltava.aspx last accessed, 8/29/19.

[lii] The Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt ©1985, P.522-523.

[liii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.259.

[liv] Air Force Magazine, The Poltava Debacle, by John T. Correll, March 2011, http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2011/March%202011/0311Poltava.aspx last accessed, 8/29/19.

[lv] Air Force Magazine, The Poltava Debacle, by John T. Correll, March 2011, http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2011/March%202011/0311Poltava.aspx last accessed, 8/29/19.

[lvi] World War II Almanac 1931-1945, by Robert Goralski, © 1981.

[lvii] The Last year of the Luftwaffe: May 1944 to May 1945, by Alfred Price, © 1991. P. 51.

[lviii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.259.

[lix] The Last year of the Luftwaffe: May 1944 to May 1945, by Alfred Price, © 1991. P. 52. Though extremely dangerous fighter pilots did ram heavy bombers and survive.

[lx] World War II Almanac 1931-1945, by Robert Goralski, © 1981.

[lxi] The Last year of the Luftwaffe: May 1944 to May 1945, by Alfred Price, © 1991. P. 96.

[lxii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981.

[lxiii] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981.

[lxiv] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981.

[lxv] History Channel, Dogfights deadliest Missions of the Luftwaffe, “The Flying Battering Rams”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq3Oy61BiaU, last accessed 9/1/19.

[lxvi] Mighty Eighth War Diaries by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, P.496.

[lxvii] The Me 262 wasn’t the fastest fighter to attack B-17s. The Me 163 rocket fighter was over 50 mph (80 km/h) faster than the Me 262.

German Fighter Production February - June 1944

Month
Single Engine
Twin-Engine
February
1,114
227
March
1,307
343
April
1,472
574
May
1,760
627
June
2,292
636

Source: The Luftwaffe War Diaries by Cajus Bekker, (c) 1966 by Macdonald & Company, Ltd.

After World War II

Al Schwimmer bought and smuggled three U.S. military surplus B-17s out of the United States. On July 14, 1948 these Flying Fortresses landed in Israel. Israel immediately pressed them into service. They flew day and night missions. With the B-17s in service the fledgling Israeli Air Force was able to deliver 5 times the ordinance with the same number of sorties they had flown previously. Israeli B-17s also flew missions during the 1956 Sinai Conflict. They were phased out of the Israeli Air Force in 1957.[i]

During the Korean Conflict SB-17Gs served in the Air Force Air Rescue Service. They would drop boats and supplies to downed aircrew members. They were initially unarmed but as their mission took them closer to the North Korean coast they were fitted with armaments. Some SB-17s were painted black and used to parachute agents behind enemy lines.[ii]

Some B-17s flew as transports in civilian service. Some served as firefighters.


[i] Fighters Over Israeli by Lon Nordeen © 1990.

[ii] Air War Over Korea by Larry Davis© 1982 Squadron/Signal Publications.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi

Comments

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    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      16 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I believe you're right about the B-17 firefighting method. After World War II there were many excess aircraft. While most were scrapped some were sold to civilians or given to other government agencies. Firefighting was one the uses for these excess aircraft.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      16 months ago from Houston, Texas

      What a great history lesson regarding the B-17 airplanes! It is interesting at the end of your article that some of these aircraft were used as firefighters. I know that there are airplanes that can scoop up water and then dispatch it over fires. Others send some flame retardants. I am guessing that the B-17 planes used in firefighting efforts did the latter?

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      20 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting, I'm glad you found it interesting.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      20 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      This was very interesting.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      21 months ago

      I'm glad. Thank you.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      21 months ago from USA

      Thanks for the clarification. Fascinating details!

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      21 months ago

      Lost is when the plane crashes. Written off is when the plane returns to base, or another friendly base, but is so damaged it is beyond economical repair. "Totaled" in automobile terms.

      Al Schwimmer purchased some ex-military transports and had them flown to Israel. The FBI was on to him so he purchased 4 B-17s and 4 A-20s through a dummy corporation and had 3 of the B-17s flown out of the country.

      With Klaus Hahn is one of those people that had a mixed bag of luck. There were a lot of amazing stories of those on the other side.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      21 months ago from USA

      That incident involving Hahn is amazing. Too bad he was on the other side. It’s also strange that a guy could smuggle 3 planes out of the country! What’s the difference between lost and written off?

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      21 months ago

      Yes, your article "Brave American Airmen. Tony Keeps Their Memory Alive." is a wonderful article.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      21 months ago from UK

      The B17 is an amazing plane to view close up in a museum. My article:"Brave American Airmen.Tony Keeps Their Memory Alive." is based on a B17 that crashed in the UK during World War 2.

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